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I sometimes wonder how I got here. Not the fact that I’m stuck in a prison cell with a 45-year sentence, I know how that happened – greed. But how I came to a place where my voice has far exceeded that of this tiny cell and the towering prison walls that surround me.

Today, I’m all the things I was always meant to be: a mentor, a scholar who’s only a few classes away from a Bachelor’s degree (after dropping out in the 9th grade, far sooner if you count when I actually stopped trying), a journalist who’s byline holds some of the most coveted publications on the planet (The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and many more), a loving husband with a wife who’s amazing, loving, honest and loyal, a builder, an archiver, an artist, and so much more.

But most of all, I’m blessed because I finally learned how to love myself, and that’s what has allowed me to learn to love others – the most rewarding gift bestowed upon us in this life. And the gift that allowed me to finally find the path I was meant to travel. I wonder why I couldn’t see this confident, empathic, smart, and caring person when I was free – young and full of life. Why’d it take this – incarceration – to reach my full potential? What was it that stopped me from loving myself back then? Was it the struggle to survive?

I often tell people, only now do I actually feel like I’m living my life, before I was merely surviving, lost and confused. Jordans, cars, and fancy material positions were all I seemed to see.

Growing up poor has that effect – duct-tape on your shoes and what not. I remember being so embarrassed, the broken-down Honda my mom drove, the cheap clothes I wore to school, watching my mom struggle to pay the bills. The list was endless.

I swore I would never live like that when I was older, little did I know, prison would be my home – almost the grave, if I wouldn’t have survived that bullet! What was I thinking that night? Almost all of my friends have been shot.

I thought that was normal while growing up, like a rite-of-passage or something. Where I come from — The HillTop area of Tacoma, Washington – you get cool points for surviving a bullet, the more the better. I now recognize, it was the toxic masculinity that controlled my life, something I never learned about until my 30’s. Once I realized it ruled my life, I was able to start making changes, and that’s when all of who I was meant to be started taking shape.

Today, I fight for equality – something greater than myself and my past desire for personal gratification. I’m surrounded by good friends, people who love me for who I am, not the car I drive, shoes I wear, or any other foolish material items. I also realize that this is all that ever mattered. I wasn’t searching for money and material positions, I was looking to be loved – truly loved.

I caused irreparable harm along my path to get to where I am today. Some of the harm I’ve caused can never be reversed. I sit with it everyday, and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my days. But this I know: I’ll never harm another in the ways of my past.

I’ll spend my life being a transformer, working to shape and shift the lives I cross paths with in hopes of helping those who look as lost as I was before I found my true self. And just maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a chance to help them before they reside behind these cold steel bars with a 45-year prison sentence – forced to live with the guilt of a harm caused that can never be repaired.

We are all somebody special, and each and every one of us has something incredible to share with the world. We should encourage each other in positive ways. We should call out those who cause harm, even if it doesn’t feel like the “cool” thing to do. Most of all, we should be ourselves, because that’s when our true colors shine! Love yourself, because that is the key to truly loving others.

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